Someday I hope to post something happier here, but for now, a very cruel year for the puzzling community has dealt us another painful blow. Merl Reagle shockingly passed away on Saturday after a brief illness. The world of crosswords has lost one of its most brilliant and friendly members, and I can't describe how much we'll miss him.
I knew the name of Merl Reagle growing up in Connecticut, where my father attempted his puzzle every week in the Hartford Courant. I didn't have my solving chops yet, but I was still into puzzles. I remember one Christmas when Dad got me a GAMES puzzle book. On the tag, he wrote "To: Tyler / From: Merl Reagle." My reaction: "Who's Merl Reagle?" Little did I know the hours of enjoyment he would bring me, both through his crosswords and his friendship.
I first met Merl at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where he was a constructor and finals commentator for many years. It was clear his cleverness and charm were beloved by all. I can think back to many times I was lucky enough to spend time with him in a smaller group... He joined us for the premiere of Wordplay at Sundance; when we drove by a Movie Gallery store, he immediately challenged us to give the three anagrams of GALLERY. When I lived in Chicago, I whiled away a good couple hours one day in an easy phone conversation with Merl, talking puzzles and whatever else came up; I talked to him a handful of times on the phone and wish it had been more. On Friday night one ACPT weekend in Brooklyn, I arrived later than anticipated, and needed to eat something well after everyone else had had dinner. I ran into Merl and he kept me company at a nearby Subway, even though he didn't get anything to eat. After the most recent heartbreaker of an ACPT, I blew off some steam by making creepy faces over Merl's shoulder at Pepe's in New Haven, and I can't believe that's the last time I'll get to hang out with him. He bestowed on me an excellent anagram of my name: MANLY HINTER. As I write this, I'm looking through the emails we exchanged over the years, and not a single one of his read as if it was done dismissively or in a hurry. He was quick with an anecdote, an answer to a question, you name it.
And I haven't even mentioned his jaw-dropping ability to turn out a quality Sunday-size crossword every week. His creativity in finding new themes was endless, and I can't think of another constructor whose puzzles have made me laugh as often as Merl's. I can't imagine anyone filling his shoes, and the tournament next year simply won't be the same without him.
There's no good way to end this entry, but I'll try with this anagram discovered by Byron Walden: THE PEARLY GATES = YEP, THAT'S REAGLE.